Tribunal case possible after Govt refuses to set any aside for Maori

Astoush over the upcoming auction of mobile spectrum could now go before the Waitangi Tribunal after the Government said it would not set any aside for Maori.

The Government announced yesterday that an auction was likely to be held in the third quarter of this year to allocate the radio spectrum that will become available after the switchover to digital television.

The allocation of this spectrum will allow telecommunications companies to build fourth generation (4G) mobile networks that provide much faster mobile broadband speeds.

At the same time as it confirmed the timing of the auction, the Government also said it would not set any specific allocation of 4G spectrum for Maori.


"The Government recognises the importance of Maori having opportunities to participate in the ICT sector, however, in keeping with the view of successive Governments that spectrum is not a taonga, in our view it does not follow that Maori require further spectrum to be set aside in order to meet our shared objectives of the protection of language and culture," Communications and Information Technology Minister Amy Adams said.

Instead, Adams said the Government would look to establish a $30 million fund which would focus on how the Crown can "assist Maori [to] leverage the potential benefits of new technology".

A coalition of groups - which includes the Maori Council - already put a claim to the tribunal over 4G spectrum in 2009 but this was put on hold pending discussions with the Crown.

A representative of one part of the coalition, Graeme Everton, said yesterday the Government's decision was "short-sighted".

Asked if yesterday's announcement meant the claim to the tribunal would now be pursued, Everton responded: "I don't think the Government has given us another option ... if they see no further opportunity for us to negotiate or change their position then we only have legal means."

Everton said the outcome of the current dispute over water could give some guidance for the 4G claim.

"But at this point [in] time it's reasonable to expect that the tribunal is the right course of action."

Coalition members were to meet last night and may be in a position to provide a statement on their next move today.

Yesterday's announcement was a departure from the Labour Government's stance at the auction of 3G spectrum in 2000.

In that case, the Maori Spectrum Trust (Te Huarahi Tika) was given $5 million in 2000 and rights to buy a chunk of the spectrum at a 5 per cent discount.

It invested most of the money in the local arm of Zimbabwe-based mobile operator Econet through its commercial arm, the Hautaki Trust.

This eventually led to the establishment of the country's third major mobile phone operator, 2degrees.

Telecommunications Users Association head Paul Brislen said the Government had missed an opportunity to "shore up" Hautaki Trust's shareholding in 2degrees, which was being "watered down".

According to the Companies Office, the trust holds a 10 per cent stake in 2degrees.